Tobacco Project—The Language of Smoke: 1902, 2004

Xu Bing
China, b. 1955
Tobacco Project—The Language of Smoke: 1902, 2004
Installation, neon lights
Yuz Foundation Collection

First installed within an old tobacco-processing warehouse in Shanghai, The Language of Smoke is part of Xu Bing’s series Tobacco Project (1999–2011), an examination of the early importation of American tobacco into China and the lasting impact of this now prominent industry. From a nebulous haze emerge the neon characters of 1902 advertisement, selling British-American tobacco in China:

 

Smoke invention. The most convenient and satisfying
new method of manufacturing wrapped cigarettes,
made by machine. Neat,
pure, and the healthiest.